Ten unique cameras from the dawn of consumer digital photography
When we're using our 36 Megapixel digital SLRs with large LCDs, fast burst modes, and full HD video recording, we often forget how far things have come. Back in the early days of consumer digital cameras, it was a treat to have an LCD or movie recording capability. There were also cameras that have features that, well, seem a bit odd when you look back at them.
As some of you may know, I ran the Digital Camera Resource Page for fifteen years before joining the DPReview team in February 2013. Over all those years, I've seen virtually every camera introduced, and some have remained in my memory for one reason or another.
Let's journey back in time to revisit some cameras that stood out from the crowd, starting at the beginning of the digital camera revolution. I apologize in advance for the quality of most of the product shots. Don't forget that the cameras taking the product shots weren't great, either!
Casio QV-10 (1995)
The QV-10 was one of the first consumer digital cameras, following in the footsteps of the Apple QuickTake 100 and 150. It was introduced in 1995, which is three years before Phil Askey created this website, and has features still found on cameras in 2013. It had a fixed focus, rotating F2.0 lens, which was equivalent to 60mm. The rotating lens design would later be copied by virtually every other camera manufacturer over the next ten years. Any why not? It was a great idea. The price in 1995 was around $750, which was considered a bargain at that time.
|The QV-10 was the first consumer digital camera, and introduced features still found on cameras today.|
Photos were captured by a 1/5" CCD, which produced photos at a gigantic resolution of 320 x 240. The QV-10 had no memory card, instead saving photos (which Casio called 'pages') to its 16Mbit (2MB) of built-in memory. Cameras of this era didn't capture movies.
|Photos were composed on a 1.8-inch TFT display with 61,380 dots. A dial on the bottom of the camera could be used to adjust the screen brightness. My, how times have changed. [Photo credit: The Verge]|
The QV-10's main exposure mode was aperture priority. If you didn't want to shoot at F2, you could flip a switch and you were at F8. It also offered 'exposure adjustment', which manipulated the shutter speed. The camera had a fixed focus distance, but a switch allowed you to enter macro mode.
If you wanted to take a flash photo, you were out of luck. That feature wouldn't arrive for another three years, on the QV-770.
When it came time to get your photos off of the camera, you had to use a proprietary cable that connected to your computer's RS-232 port. You can tell how old the QV-10 is by seeing references to 'video printers' in the manual.
If you want a QV-10 for yourself, good luck - I couldn't find any for sale on eBay. If you want to read a review of the camera from that time, head over to Phil Wherry's website.
Ricoh RDC-1 (1996)
The Ricoh RDC-1 has the distinction of being the first digital camera to have a movie mode. Its video recording capabilities are almost laughable in 2013 terms, but back then this was high-end. The RDC-1 could record five second clips at 768 x 480 (30 fps), with sound no less. The 24MB of memory built into the camera would fill up after just four videos. This technology came at a cost: the RDC-1 was priced in the neighborhood of $1500.
|The RDC-1 looked somewhat like a 110 film camera. [Photo credit: Mr. Martin]||A 2.5" LCD was optional, and attached to the side of the body. [Photo credit: Mr. Martin]|
Other details are a little sketchy. The RDC-1 had a 0.38 megapixel CCD and a 3X optical zoom lens, though we were unable to find the focal range (if you know, please leave a comment below). Like most cameras at this time, the RDC-1 used PCMCIA cards for storage. It also supported a wireless remote control, which was less common.
Ricoh would use this design for several years, culminating with the RDC-i700, which let you operate the camera with a stylus. It even supported a modem or 'wireless phone card' for sharing images. You could even adjust the i700's settings from your web browser.
Sony Mavica (1997-2003)
The Sony Mavica line began in 1997 with the release of the MVC-FD5 and FD7, which were priced at (roughly) $500 and $700, respectively. Both cameras recorded onto 1.44MB, 3.5" floppy disks, which were found in every computer in that day. Getting your photos onto your Mac or PC couldn't be easier, with no cable required. Each disk held between 15 and 40 VGA-size pictures.
|The MVC-FD5 was the first digital camera to use floppy disks as storage. [Photo credit: PC Watch]|
The FD5 was the basic model, with a fixed F2.0 lens, equivalent to 47mm. The FD7, on the other hand, had an F1.8-2.9, 10X zoom lens equivalent to 40 - 400mm. While the FD5 required you to flip a switch to shoot close-ups, the FD7 had an auto macro mode, which is common on modern digital cameras. Photos were composed on a 2.5" LCD which had 61,380 dots. Both cameras had built-in flashes.
|The MVC-FD5/FD7 used 3.5", 1.44MB floppy disks as storage. [Photo credit: PC Watch]||The two cameras had 2.5" LCDs and even a four-way controller. [Photo credit: PC Watch]|
Believe it or not, these two old cameras had both scene modes and picture effects. Yep, in 1997 you could turn on 'sports lesson' mode, or create a 'pastel' image.
As camera resolution increased, Sony realized that a floppy drive just wasn't going to cut it. The MVC-FD92 had a 1.3 megapixel sensor, and you could only fit five or six photos on the disk. Sony's solution was to add a Memory Stick slot to its floppy-based cameras. A 16MB Memory Stick could store a whopping 24 photos. You could get photos off of the camera using USB or, if you really love floppy disks, use Sony's MSAC-FD2MA Memory Stick adapter.
|The massive MVC-CD1000 was the first Mavica to use 3-inch CD-R discs. You'll also notice that it sports an electronic viewfinder. The CD1000 retailed for a whopping $1300. [Photo credit: Digital Camera Resource Page]|
Sony's next move was to switch from floppy disks to CDs. Not just any CDs, though. These were 156MB. 3-inch CD-R discs which, of course, weren't compatible with most CD-ROM drives of that era. Sony didn't forget about that issue, and included a 3-inch to 5-inch adapter. Not only did these CDs hold a lot of data, they were also very inexpensive. Back in the year 2000, a 160MB CompactFlash card was over $350, while Sony sold the CD-R discs for about $4 a pop.
Astute readers may have already picked up on what the problem was with using CD-R discs. That is, they were write-once, just like film. Thankfully, CD-RW discs soon arrived, allowing you to 'erase' photos from the disc. The most frustrating part was the confusing 'finalization' process, which was so complex that Sony included a flow chart in the camera manual.
There were many reasons why the various Sony Mavicas were revolutionary, but the relative ease of getting photos off the camera and onto your computer is the one I remember the most.